Czech beer is justly famous throughout the world for its taste and potency. The Bohemian town of Plzen is the centre of the industry and the quality beer, Pilsner Urquell (Plzensky Prazdroj) is widely available. Budweiser too, you may be surprised to learn originates in the Czech Republic, where it is known as Budvar – it is very different from its American variant. The local brews are just as good: Pragzanka, for example, brewed in the suburb of Holesovice. If your preference is for dark beer, look out for U Fleku, (there is a pub bearing that name in Prague). The strength of the beer (either 12 or 14 per cent) is usually indicated on the menu. The general word for beer is pivo.
The Czechs are less well known for their wines, introduced from Burgundy by the Emperor Charles IV in the 14th century. Nowadays, the best vintages hail from Moravia and Slovakia, although the Bohemian wines of the Melnik region also have a good reputation. You will find them on sale in most Prague wine bars. You will also find a wide range of wines from abroad, especially French and German.
White wine is vino bile, red wine vino cervene. There are three very different types of liqueur worth sampling. Borovicka is fiery, in the way of an Italian grappa, and should be treated with the same respect. Slivovice is a very winning plum brandy but best of all is the wonderfully aromatic becherovka, an herb-based drink concocted in the spa town of Karlovy Vary.
By this stage of the proceedings, you’ll be in need of a coffee (kava). If you don’t ask specifically for an espresso, you are likely to be served Turkish coffee, which comes with the grounds included.
Eating out in Prague is still extremely good value – if you can find a table. Unfortunately, at the moment most restaurants outside the hotels are fully booked at weekends and often on weekdays as well. There is no easy solution to this problem, save to say that you should book as far ahead as possible. The alternative is to turn up on spec in the hope that a table becomes available
Don’t necessarily be put off by the reserve sign at the door; a table may become available – consult the head waiter about your chances. As most Czechs tend to eat early (any time from 17.30 hours onwards), the best time to arrive, if you haven’t booked, is probably about 19.30 to 20.00 hours. Hopefully the lifting of restrictions on private enterprise should lead to an improvement in the long run.
There are several different types of eating house: restaurant, usually found in hotels; vinarny, literally wine restaurants although they actually sell beer as well; pivnice, beer halls or pubs which also sell food, although in rather basic surroundings; and kavarny, corresponding to the English café. There are limited restrictions on smoking in restaurants although apparently none in pubs. Service is usually included but a tip of about 10 per cent is customary.